Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ecuador - Hummingirds

Ecuador is located in South America and as the name suggests is on the equator. Our gang just returned from a 10 day trip to explore the birds and nature of the country. We signed up for the trip last November so it was a long wait. The trip itinerary included a few days in the Andes mountains where we spent time in various locations and then ended with 4 days in the "Choco" region at a remote lodge.

The itinerary indicated that we could see as many as 600 bird species on the trip. We ended up seeing 360 species. 232 of those were life birds for me. There were so many birds that I have decided to break them up into multiple posts. This post concentrates on just the hummingbirds. The field guide lists 134 species possible - 134! We have exactly 1 specie here in Pennsylvania.

Our trip started on Sat Nov 2nd in Quito which is the capital of Ecuador and located at 9,340 feet elevation and  -0.20562° N latitude, -78.5088° E longitude. Our first stop was to a preserve called Yanacocha which is at 12,000 feet elevation. Joco Toco Conservation Fund helps to protect the area. It was pretty cool at this elevation. We needed jackets for sure. 

Who knew that we could find such cool birds and hummingbirds at such high elevation! 

The first hummer that I saw was this cinnamon colored bird called Shining Sunbeam. 

Shining Sunbeam
Its a cute bird but I didn't understand why it was called Shining Sunbeam until it turned around.

Shining Sunbeam
It should really be called "Rainbow Butt". Look at how it shines in the sunlight!

Next up, a little hummer called Golden-breasted Puffleg. Check out the white puffs on the legs. This dude was itching for a fight with any other hummer that flew past him. 

Golden-breasted Puffleg - ready for action
The most common hummer at Yanacocha was the Buff-winged Starfrontlet. What a name. 

Buff-winged Starfrontlet
And then my eyes almost popped out of my head when this bird arrived at the feeders. This is Sword-billed Hummingbird. Look at the size of that bill! It is designed to get nectar from really big flowers. He must have really good aim to get his bill in the feeder hole at that distance

Sword-billed Hummingbird
There were many other birds at this site but for now, just hummers. On Sunday, we headed out to a remote farm in the Andes located at lower elevation to see some amazing birds which I will tell you about in another post. The farmer has hummingbird feeders hanging around the pavilion where we had coffee and a delicious snack that his wife prepared. Here are some of the hummers from this site.

Andean Emerald isn't stunning but still really cute. This guy ruled the roost.

Andean Emerald
This Purple-bibbed Whitetip is aptly named. You can see both the bib and the white tips.

Purple-bibbed Whitetip
In the diminutive category, nothing beats this tiny Purple-throated Woodstar. She flies like a bumblebee!
Purple-throated Woodstar
Hermits are category of hummingbirds that have long curved bills. Here is White-whiskered Hermit coming in for some sugar water.

White-whiskered Hermit
In the afternoon, we headed to our 3rd hotel in 3 days. The hotel reminded me of an out-of-date Pocono lodge filled with dark wood paneling and smelling moldy. Our rooms were decorated in a Victorian theme with lacy pillow cases and valences around the bed posts. Not what I expected in Ecuador. Luckily, the hotel had some hummingbird feeders that attracted some amazing birds.

Of all of the hummers that I wanted to see, this Booted Racket-tail topped the list. I can't even!

Booted Racket-tail
Look at those "boots"!

Booted Racket-tail
This Violet-purple Coronet was a handsome devil - and I think he knows it too.

Violet-purple Coronet
The coup-de-gras of all hummers at this location had to be Violet-tailed Sylth. The bird has a really long tail which you may be able to see in this photo. He also has brilliant turquoise stripe on his head and purple throat patch that shines when the light hits it.

Violet-tailed Sylth
That's all great but it is nothing like the full Monty! Here he is showing off the crazy shining long tail. It was truly something to behold.
Violet-tailed Sylth
I'll stop there for now. We saw other hummingbirds throughout the 10 day excursion but it gets overwhelming after a while.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Circumnavigating Puerto Rico

I think that most people who visit Puerto Rico do so on a cruise or go to one hotel/resort and stay there. Most of the resorts are near the San Juan in the northeast part of the island. Lori and I were determined to go birding so we rented a car and headed out on Highway 2 eastbound from the airport. About 25 minutes later, we were heading south  and then 30 minutes later we were heading west on the same highway. 3 hours later, we arrived in the southwest corner of the island to start our birding adventure.

Puerto Rico has 15 or so "endemic" species that are only found on this island. We had a target list and hoped to find some of them. During our 2 days in the southwest, we birded 3 areas and did really well despite showing up at some of the parks when they were closed! We started with a quick drive around Bosque Estatal de Guanica (Guanica Dry Forest) where we found 3 life birds including Adelaide's Warbler. I posted this photo to Flickr and ended up with thousands of views and over a hundred people added it to their favorites list.


The following day, we went to Laguna Cartegena and ticked off 8 more lifers including this gaudy Red Bishop. They call it a Bishop because of the red "hood". We saw a few of these guys along the road into the lagoon.


We also found many Smooth-billed Ani along the road. These are pretty large and noisy birds but they fly away if you get too close. This guy apparently didn't get the memo on that and just sat on the fence right next to the car. Look at that giant beak.

Another bird that usually doesn't let you get too close is the Kestral. I noticed this guy had a lizard for lunch and slowly drove the car closer. He let us get a few shots before turning his lunch into take out. The gross part of the photo is that the lizard doesn't have a head. Yuck.


The next day, we finally made it to Cabo Rojo NWR which is supposed to be the best birding in Puerto Rico. We walked 2 miles on the mosquito infested paths and found another 4 life birds including the Troupial which is a type of Oriole native to Puerto Rico. 

One of the nice things about visiting the Caribbean or Central America in October is that you run into some old bird friends who have recently left our area for the winter. We saw over 50 Blackpoll Warblers at the park. 
And also found this Prothonotary Warbler stalking bugs in the low shrubs. 


We detoured off of Highway 2 to get to these birding locations. We also tried to go birding in Maracoa which is up in the mountains and ended up on some pretty rough roads which went straight up the mountain in one lane. I got a work out just turning the steering wheel trying to keep the car on the twisting mountain roads. It was really harrowing and all for nothing since it poured rain when we finally made it to the top of the mountain. We sat there for an hour before giving up and going back to the hotel. We did manage to find 3 life birds on the way including this Antillean Euphonia. What a wild colored bird. He has a sky blue head. 


We continued our Highway 2 journey heading west for a few minutes before turning north and eventually east to head back to San Juan and to the Caribe Hilton hotel where I was scheduled to attend a conference on Tuesday. 

Between working and schmoozing at the conference, I did manage to find time to head out to Puerto Rico's famous El Yunque Rain Forest and found another 4 life birds bringing the total to 24 for the trip. The drive to El Yunque not only provided more birds but also completed the full circuit of Highway 2. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Shaking His Tail Feathers

Lori and I are in Puerto Rico on a fast and furious birding trip before I have to go to a conference in San Jan. We are down in the south west corner of the island looking for endemic species and having pretty good luck. I'll tell you about that later. For now, I thought you might be interested to see this Pin-tailed Whydah's courtship woes. Male Pin-tailed Whydah are really cool looking birds. They are only sparrow sized bird but they have incredibly long tail that cannot be overlooked. The birds never let us get close but I did manage to capture this series of photos that show how hard this dude works to impress his gal. She's sitting on the bare branch and he's working his ass off in flight literally shaking his tail feathers.




 He finally goes in for the smooch . . .
 But she is NOT interested
 There she goes.

Better luck next time dude.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Whales, Condors and Warblers

Todd and I definitely made the most of our trip to California. On our quest to find a few lifers for me, we also came across other birds and sea life. Here are a few follow up photos including these California Sealions on the Monterey Jetty.

California Sealion
And plenty of Humpback Whales. Here is a photo of Pink-footed Shearwater and a whale together.

Pink-footed Shearwater and Humpback Whale
I've seen plenty of Humpback whales but this is the best "fluke" photo that I've ever had. This photo is not cropped. That is how close the whale was to the boat!

Humpback Whale Fluke
Remember, the boat is not allowed to chase the whale. We need to stop at some distance away. This one came really close. Very exciting. We also saw Risso's Dolphins on the trip. You can identify them at a distance because their heads look white. These guys came right at the boat and I was able to snap this shot. He looks like he's smiling for the camera! 

Risso's Dolphin
Back on land, we spent time just driving the roads along the coast, cattle fields and canyons looking for birds. Todd spotted a MacGillivray's warbler but I missed it. They are skulkers and hard to see. Todd is really good at understanding suitable habitat for birds and calling them out by "pishing". I used that information on another day and got to see this MacGillivray's warbler along another road. Ta-da!

MacGillivray's Warbler
Another sweet warbler that we found along the canyon roads was Wilson's warbler. You can easily identify these warblers by the black "yamaka" that they wear on their head. 

WIlson's Warbler
Anna's hummingbirds are common in California. We rarely stopped along the road and didn't see one. Here is a young male perched. You can see his throat patch coming in like a teenaged boy trying to grow a goatee.
Anna's Hummingbird
Back along the coast, we stopped at a beach for a walk. We were treated to this harbor seal basking on the rocks. Look at the waves splashing behind her.

Harbor Seal
We were also able to photograph some beach birds. Black Oystercatchers are the common species on the Pacific coast. Like our Oystercatcher, they have that bright orange bill and flesh toned legs.

Black Oystercatcher
Heerman'g gulls are some of my favorite. I love their muted gray tones. This one is ready to take flight.

Heerman's Gull
This crab was almost lunch for a Western Gull but the bird dropped the crab when he saw us walking up the beach. We snapped a photo before returning the crab to the water.

Purple Shore Crab
All-in-all, a great trip to northern California coast.

Friday, September 20, 2019

3 Days in California, 3 Life Birds for Linda

I'm getting to that point in my birding "career" where I've seen a lot of species. My total life list is almost 1300 birds. That's a lot of birds. Of that total, I've seen 669 species in the ABA area. The ABA (American Birding Association) area comprises the US and Canada. Traditionally, Hawaii is excluded but recently, the ABA allowed birders to include Hawaii in their totals but I elected to keep Hawaii separate. I have a goal of seeing 700 species in the ABA by age 60. That goal is not as easy as you would think.

When planning my trip to California, I looked up my "target list" on eBird to review any species that I could see in the San Francisco area and was surprised to find such a short list:
  1. Tri-colored Blackbird
  2. Lawrence's Goldfinch
  3. Cassin's Auklet
  4. Fork-tailed Storm-petrel
  5. Flesh-footed Shearwater

Other birds were on the list but had probability ratings of less than 1% which means that they are very rare.

We arrived in California around noon but had issues with the rental car and never got down to Monterey area until 4:00 or so. Despite the delay, we found our first target easily - Tri-colored Blackbird. They are easily found at the dairy farm.

Tri-colored Blackbirds
Day 1, Bird 1 - check! We had the whole day on Friday to go birding around the area. We decided to take a drive out to Pinnacles National Park where bird #2 had been reported. Pinnacles is also a known area to see the very endangered California Condor. We arrived at the park around 9 AM and stopped at the Visitor Center to pay the fee. We met another birder who had his scope trained on some roosting Condors. The birds were in a tree at the top of a ridge. We asked if he had seen any Lawrence's Goldfinches. He said, "sure, they're at the pool". Dang if they weren't. We wandered over to the pool in the campground and viola. Day 2, Bird 2!

Lawrence's Goldfinch
We found some other birds in the park but our big find was more California Condors. The park is surrounded by cattle ranches. We saw something in the field under the lone tree.

California Condors
22 Condors roosting the shade. The calf wanted shade too but didn't dare to go too close to the huge birds. This photo shows the size comparison so that you can get a sense of how huge these birds are. Condors are the largest birds in North America. A member of the vulture family, they only eat dead animals. Unfortunately for the farmer, the flock had gathered to make the most of a dead cow in the field. Zooming in to the photo, we could see that the birds are tagged. Each bird was hatched in captivity and released into the wild with the wing band. We saw #97, 92, 58, 59, 31, 16, 40 and 78.

California Condors
On Saturday, we booked a pelagic trip out of Monterey Bay. We boarded the boat at 7:00 and by 9:00, I had bird #3 - Cassin's Auklet! Now, I know it doesn't look like much but it is a really cute alcid. Day 3, Bird 3 - check. My Total Life List is now at 1299 and our ABA list is now 672.

Cassin's Auklet
I have more photos and stories from our boat trip that I'll share in another post.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sooty Shearwater Facts and Fun

So, last month I went out on the Atlantic ocean for the day. This month, Todd and I went out on the Pacific ocean for more birding at sea. We booked 2 trips with Alvaro's Adventures. The first trip was out of Monterey Bay which was pretty good and I'll post about it later. The second trip was out of Half Moon Bay and unfortunately was cancelled due to rough seas. Alvaro and the boat captain felt bad for us and agreed to take us around the bay for an hour so that we could witness the spectacle of a huge Sooty Shearwater  flock that had taken up residence in the bay feeding on a school of anchovies. This phenomenon does not occur often so it was worth the boat ride. You can see the black dots surrounding this fishing boat.


Our Captain drove the boat right into the flock slowly so that we could get a closer look. As the boat approached, the birds would run across the water.


You can see all of the splashing water behind the birds as they tried to take flight.


I took several videos so that you could see the birds but also hear the pitter-patter of their feet as they ran across the water to lift off.


It was tough to get a photo of a single bird. They are powerful flyers. In fact, Sooty Shearwaters complete the second longest migration of any bird traveling from their breeding grounds in New Zealand across the Pacific ocean to California and back each year. A total trip of 40,000 miles!

Unfortunately, with so many birds, there are bound to be casualties. We found this dead bird floating face down in the water with a big gash in its side. They are pretty hefty birds. I took this selfie with the bird and Alvaro. I guess its kind of morbid but at least the bird's death will have some positive effects. Alvaro will take it to the natural history museum for study. 


OK, so now comes the interesting part. You need to listen to the video for the story that Alvaro told us. As you read earlier, the Sooty Shearwater phenomenon doesn't happen often. It happened in 1961 and due to weather and other circumstances, the birds lost their bearings and flew onto land. I'll let you listen to the rest of the story.


I really love that movie and now I love it even more.